By Nic Conroy, Studio Founder & Lead Instructor
This summer I was approach by Hadrian Stiff, Director & Founder at Elite Squash to teach Pilates to some his clients during their summer break in Bristol. Hadrian coaches a number of elite squash players, including the current World Number 1 and has an amazing, holistic approach to get the best out of the best.
One philosophy I live by is ‘efficiency’. If we can walk through life with the most ease for the greatest output then this has to be a good thing right? What if I said “you can do less, and achieve more”? This so often goes against everything we’ve been taught in life: “No pain, no gain". But actually working with Hadrian has cemented my view because this is exactly his approach and he’s working with top flight athletes who are hugely successful at what they do.
My first thought when asked to teach his players was “what on earth can I teach these guys, they are the creme-de-la-creme of their sport?”. But it turns out that even top flight professional athletes have movement patterns which aren’t as efficient as they could be. This can lead to injuries or just feeling more achy after a long tournament which means they don’t go into their next tournament feeling on top form.
I worked with a number of players over the summer, and am continuing with my work with them this Autumn and here are the benefits I’ve seen from their work in the Pilates studio.
Ease of Movement
We want movement to feel easy and smooth. Bringing the mind into the body, and the body into the mind, is a huge part of this experience. Often we are so driven by our head that we fail to notice what the body is feeling, what it is sensing. Being asked to describe a feeling, to notice a feeling, to be given time to check in with yourself pre-and-post session is a huge part of this journey to learn and sense how we 'feel'.
Often we stay in the head asking ourselves things like, “what muscle is this working”, “what should I be engaging” - this isn’t the point. When we move, whether it’s to play top level sport or walking down the street we don’t tell our bodies to “engage this glute to move this leg” we just have the aim of walking to get somewhere. This is even more prevalent in any sport or high intensity activity - you’re so focused on your game, or your run that you will fail to check in with your posture, your movement or the strategy to move more easily.
Posture is not something we can consciously control. We need it to just be there. Our bodies really do want to be efficient but sometimes they need a little re-calibrating to realise that movement can be easy. In order for the nervous system to recalibrate, it needs to have time to sense the patterns it’s learned so that it can start to pick up these new patterns and next time it’s asked to walk down the street, walk up the stairs or play the biggest game of its life it just finds the efficiency.
Improved Squat & Lunge Patterns
Squats are a bit of a buzz word in terms of functional movement and really something we should all be looking to improve. A deep squat is an incredibly efficient rest position for our bodies - just look at a toddler and you’ll see this is how they bend down and stay in one place - it’s the easiest way for their joints to rest. But a lifetime of sitting and staying away from these patterns means that for most people squats and lunges feel really tricky which results in the body compensating to achieve the aim.
And when it comes to Squash, where when you spend a good chunk of your game lunging to reach those low shots they matter even more. And here is where we spend time focusing on the pelvis. Where is it, how it moves, where do muscles connect and how do we use movement to create space and efficiency.
By Nic Conroy, Studio Founder
We love to see you working on what you've learned in your sessions at home. Here are some handy reminders on the key points we're looking for in each of these exercises.
By Nic Conroy, Studio Founder
What’s brought you here today? Are you looking to be toned, to be thinner, maybe it’s to not be in pain or are you seeking a bigger (or a smaller) bum…?
When I was in the planning for the opening of the Soul Pilates studio three years ago, I looked around at the wider industry and these were the kinds of messages I was constantly bombarded with. And, from a marketing point of view this is the kind of message that sells. People mostly want to be a better version of themselves it seems. But this wasn't my vision and it wasn’t my reality.
Rewind 8 years and I was living in Leeds as a Digital Director for a prestigious marketing agency. I drove a convertible, ran for my train in sky scraper heels, flew between Leeds and Geneva for meetings, went to the gym almost every day and weighted 2 stone more than I do now.
Now I can reflect and see that I was unfulfilled and living an incredibly stressed out life. But I didn’t see it like that then. I thought I was living the life I’d always worked for. I was a girl with good grades who was always going to go to university and have a big career - and I did: prestigious clients, dinners at 3 star Michelin restaurants, generous clients entertainment budgets to spend and have fun with, nights out until 3am and up again at 6am for a run before presenting at a board meeting. II’ll admit it was fun at times, but it was understandably exhausting now I look back and I constantly felt burnt out, yet frustrated at myself for being, too tired to cope with this life. “Surely other people could manage better than I was?” was something I often told myself.
There are certain parts of the body that always get more attention than others.
The pelvic floor (especially in the female demographic) is definitely a popular area of discussion in pilates, yoga and physical therapy. This is a good thing as so many women and men suffer from pelvic floor issues.
There are whole practices dedicated specifically to pelvic floor health. In pre and post natal pilates sessions it’s very common that the pelvic floor is the central focus ensuring the muscles are strong and well co-ordinated.
In contrast to this, I have also taught thousands of women that have left the hospital after having had a baby or pelvic surgery, with the instructions to 'do their pelvic floor exercises'- with absolutely no clue what that actually means, other than stopping the flow of water?!
In this blog, I aim to give you more support around how to train your pelvic floor to improve continence, pelvic and lower back support, balance, flexibility and even force absorption!
Not many of us can continue to run every day and stay fit at the same time. Running has the tendency to put considerable stress on joints and lead to all manners of pain and aches if you’re not careful. The repetitive movement involved can be brutal, especially as you age and your bones become weaker. This is where Pilates can better condition your body to deal with this stress.
Pilates is a functional routine that is all about strengthening the core. It improves your stability, flexibility and allows you to be in total control of your body’s movements. Read on to learn how and why Pilates benefits runners.
There is a common misconception that horse riding requires little effort with many people believing that the rider merely sits while the horse does all the work. This could not be further from the truth and horse riding is a great way to develop a strong core and build strength in the legs, glutes and back. The body is strengthened through a rider’s need to balance and control the horse. Many athletes use Pilates as a way to improve their overall fitness levels. In this article we look at how Pilates will benefit horse riders.
The muscle groups most affected by horse riding are those around the pelvic and hip joints. Popular horse magazine Horse & Hound spoke to Pilates expert Lindsay Wilcox-Reid about the effects of riding on the body. She told the magazine “you may not even be aware of this, yet the far-reaching effects through your back and shoulders can cause twisting, tilting and an inability to maintain an elastic contact.” In her article on Pilates exercises riders could try at home, she went on to explain how a few simple warm up exercises for Pilates could help: “these preparatory exercises are designed to be used before starting Pilates to ‘normalise’ your fundamental pelvic and spinal mechanics.” Lindsay Wilcox-Reid instructs the readers on two exercises that focus on the glutes and piriformis muscles at the side of the hip. Both these muscle groups benefit hugely from Pilates as they can get overused and potentially injured during riding.
Just back from an amazing week skiing at the Lac Salin Hotel & Moutain Resort in Livigno (where I also run a mountain biking business in the summer, www.monkeymtb.com) in the Italian Alps and boy do I feel like I’ve been skiing for a week!
I have been trying to increase my leg work recently in preparation, but having lessons where I was learning to carve at high speeds for 4 hours each day really pushed my body to its limit, not just in terms of strength, but also flexility and range of motion. So whilst this blog post is probably a bit late for many of you this year, I thought it best to write it when my body was still telling me what it needed and this will hopefully serve as a little reminder for us all next year!
Also as I write the exercises that I think would provide you with the most benefit, I’m aware that many of these take months to perfect and sometimes even longer to really gain the strategies and strength needed to really perfect the moves and get them subconsciously into your nervous system.
So this is a plan of where you need to get yourself to, ready for next year. So you can use this year to build your movement patterns to a place where you can master some of these complex moves with ease - hopefully transferring them to the mountain with as much ease…and grace!
My few days away in Ireland has been so relaxing, although as well as possibly taking in too much of the black stuff (I LOVE a Baby Guinness!) I think I have over dosed on sea air. I literally feel drugged with the need to sleep. My mum’s house overlooks the sea and every morning I have run down to the beach and back. I am not a natural runner and have always been envious of those who are. However yesterday I felt so in tune with my surroundings I somehow ran 10km straight. I was enjoying the stillness of the sea lapping the shore and the salt in the air that I literally forgot how far I had run. Now if only I could take this feeling back to Bristol!
I am currently staying in Kerry, possibly the most beautiful county in Ireland. I say ‘staying’ but I’m actually from here although you’d know by my accent it is a long time since I lived here. All my family now live in Ireland and I’m the only one in the UK. And for so long Kerry has never felt like my home despite the fact my mum, brother and sister live here. However of late, I have enjoyed coming here to switch off from the world. For so long I resented that not much went on here, now I look forward to it. Is that growing older or possibly realising that you need different parts and paces to your life? It’s like my running; when I think about how frequently I should run, or how I should stay out longer I always felt like I was battling myself. And I therefore battled with any sort of decent distance and regularity to my running and I certainly never enjoyed it. Today I just ran because I was taking in the beautiful views and feeling like the fresh air was cleansing my soul and somehow the distance just came. It was the first time I understood how some people talk about running as a kind of meditation.
It’s interesting how our motivations and intentions can have a huge impact about how we feel. I spend a lot of my days talking to clients about how there really is too much ‘should’ in their lives. They tell me, “I should hold my shoulders down and back’, ‘I should go to the gym more”, ‘I should relax more’, ‘I should have better posture’. My response is always the same “How about you have a little less ‘should’ in your life?” Which is an interesting concept. We are conditioned to believe that nothing comes unless you work hard for it. That no gain comes without pain. And that you can always do better.